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A Gap Year Might Be Good for Your STEM Brain

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If you’re a STEM student, you’ve probably been working hard. No one likes to get behind in a course involving science, technology, engineering or math.

So this might be the time to think about what happens after high school graduation - not about college but about not going to college.

It’s not crazy talk. A gap year or semester away from a traditional classroom might be a reset button for your brain or just the thing to kick-start the next phase of your life. You can network, gain hands-on work lab experience, or even learn a language that would help in your research.

For example, STEM student Steven Schwab is in Brazil this year for a bridge year through Global Citizen Year, a San Diego-based program.

“Never did I expect that I’d be working at a local university (Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina in Florianópolis, Brazil) where I’ve had the opportunity to work in a biotechnology laboratory, to help teach English, and to expand Google maps to places that they haven’t ventured yet,” he says.

What could you do on your time away from a classroom? Here are just a few examples:

  • Medical programs let you shadow doctors and nurses and volunteer in clinics or other public-health settings. This might be the time to figure out if medical training is really right for you.

  • Use your science and technology skills to take a closer look at the developing world and gain a focus for further study.

  • You could dive further into marine biology or even spend a semester at sea.

  • Science is big part of environmental responsibility. Many gap programs offer opportunities to help with research or to see how the latest techniques make a difference in, say, water quality or wildlife conservation.

  • You could work in agriculture or sustainability programs, either to gain a better understanding of farming techniques or to research green methods.

  • In immersion programs, you can learn a language well enough to communicate with scientists on the other side of the world or to talk to people when you’re surveying or collecting data.

If you’re into STEM, it’s tempting to feel the pressure to keep your nose to the grindstone and just head straight to college. But this is the time to get out in the world and see how science and math affect people’s daily lives – and how your passion for STEM could affect their futures.

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Susan Moeller-profile-picture

Susan Moeller is a former newspaper editor and reporter who has directed education coverage as well as written about schools and children. She lives on Cape Cod, has three children and is a veteran of the boarding school and college search process.